Home at Last September 2011
25 September 2011 | Wayfarer's Cove / Whortonsville NC
The bottom paint job was complete and Tom at Wayfarer's cove was ready to drop Southern Star back in the water. This was two weeks ago. Uncle Jack and Aunt Vanessa had planned a few days of relaxation at the coast and we were going to get together for at least one day of sailing, perhaps two. We were going to travel to the coast on Friday night and move the boat on Saturday morning. Our weekend plan was shipwrecked when Tom called late on Friday afternoon.
They had splashed the boat on schedule. Part of their routine is to examine the vessel's stuffing box and tighten it if it was leaking. I was aware of this because the stuffing box packing will dry out while the boat is out of the water and will almost certainly leak. That is why it was so important that the bilge pump be working. Everything was fine until the lock nut broke while being tightened. The lock nut is essential because it keeps the main adjustment from moving while the shaft is turning. Alone it is probably worth $2 tops. The problem is that replacing it requires taking the boat out of the water and at least backing the propeller shaft away from the transmission coupling.
Tom had already placed the boat back on stands before he called me. We had a talk about how to proceed. Things are never simple when boats are involved. From experience, Tom knew that the transmission coupling was most likely seized due to rust. This is to be expected given the environment the collar lives in. It is simpler and cheaper to cut the old propeller shaft and replace it along the collar than to spend dozens of hours wrestling a shaft that is nearly 30 years old and probably badly worn inside the stuffing box and the cutlass bearing near the propeller. The only thing that made sense was to completely replace everything from the transmission to the propeller including the coupling, shaft, stuffing box assembly and the cutlass bearing.
We drove down on early on Monday September 12 to inspect the damage. Jack and Vanessa were enjoying their time at the coast and I wanted to see what we were looking at as far as boat repairs. We arrived at about noon and we discussed the repairs in detail. I finalized my bilge pump electrical repair while I was there so I would have one less thing to worry about. We drove back home avoiding the expense of a hotel room. We had considered meeting Jack and Vanessa but the timing didn't work out. I think they enjoyed their time off even if we didn't get to go sailing.
Two weeks and many dollars later, Tom called again saying that the work was complete and he was ready to splash the boat again. This time the new stuffing box was adjusted to keep the water out and the new lock nut held.
Friday September 23, 2011
We left home after work for the roadside West Park hotel in Kinston. We could have left on Saturday morning but I wanted to arrive at the yard as early as possible on Saturday. We arrived in Kinston at about 9pm without incident.
Saturday September 24, 2011
It was not raining when we left the hotel but that changed. The weather report was for a 60% chance of rain. The good news is that although thunderstorms were likely, they were more likely in the afternoon. The wind was to be light and from the South. When we arrived at the yard, the boat was tied in the lift well. I inspected the work that had been done. It looked really good to me but I was concerned that the new stuffing box would several hours of use. I had brought tools to tighten it on the river if necessary. We had several things to do before I could leave the marina. The bimini canvas had been removed because of hurricane Irene. Replacing it would be essential for a foul weather passage. There were other preparations to make. Judy helped me get ready. The little diesel cranked on the first revolution as if it was as ready as I to get the boat home. I left the marina at about 10am. Judy left with the car at the same time. The Wayfarer's Cove channel is treacherous at best, but it had been dredged since the hurricane had passed and the water level was a bit higher than normal. Some of the channel markers were damaged or missing but Tom had given me specific instructions on how to navigate. I had no trouble at all even though our boat has an unusually deep keel.
After the channel, I settled in to what I knew would be more than a three hour slog. The weather was simply miserable. It was not what I would call a "driving" rain, but it was steady. The only good news is that there was very little wave action. The forecasters called for winds from the south. My compass said they were northeast. I kept hoping the weather would get better, but the moment I left the marina was the best moment of the trip. I stopped about a mile out to inspect the new stuffing box. It was leaking but no more than I expected. I continued and got to thinking about how little that boat felt. I was headed down the Neuse River. The further I went the bigger the Neuse got. It is a beautiful place even if the weather is generally hostile. The Coast Guard came on the VHF radio with a warning to mariners about a line of storms from Cape Lookout to Cape Hatteras headed north. YIKES! It was coming right at me. Conditions were bad but they seemed to be steady. A couple of times I saw brilliant lightening and heard tremendous thunder. It was not like a typical thunderstorm. The sound was much deeper and it was hard to tell where it was coming from. I am no fan of thunderstorms and I was wasting no time getting home. In the days when the British Navy was under sail, captains liked to keep their hulls clean because it gave them a speed and maneuverability advantage in combat. Southern Star's new bottom paint was as slick as a button and the difference was evident. I was going nearly half a knot faster than the normal cruising speed even with a bit of a head wind. Running from a thunderstorm in a sailboat is much like a turtle running to avoid traffic on a highway.
When I made my turn for home near the Gum Thicket Shoal marker, the wind was more to my back so at least it wasn't hitting me in the face. The conditions remained about the same all the way home. I called Judy when I entered Broad Creek. She said she would put her wet clothes back on help me land. The only way to get a really good first mate is to marry one. The rain was relentless. Nick stopped by to check on us and said the weather was supposed to clear a bit by late evening. The boat was soggy from the trip, because we had tracked in so much water. The idea of spending the night on a soggy boat did not appeal to me but I was concerned about the leaking stuffing box. I decided to let it rest for an hour or so and check it again. It was still leaking more than I was comfortable with when leaving for home. The adjustment is not hard to do, but most stuffing boxes are difficult to get to. I carefully loosened the lock nut and started tightening the main adjustment. To my amazement the leaking stopped abruptly when I had made no more than a quarter turn. I knew it would be better a little loose than too tight so I stopped while I was ahead. It may drip a bit more but past experience tells me that it will not drip long when the shaft is not turning.
With the boat buttoned up and the stuffing box tightened, we had a decision to make. Go home now or go home on Sunday. There were two contributing factors. The forecast was for rain and more rain, all night and all day Sunday. The boat and crew would be soggy all night because there was no possibility of drying out before dark. The other factor was the multitude of aggressive mosquitoes the size of sparrows whose numbers and attitude had been encouraged by hurricane Irene's flood waters. There were no plans for Sunday except to drive home and no dock mates in sight. Judy agreed to drive part of the way so we headed home mid afternoon. The rain was steady most of the way. We dropped all the soggy clothing and equipment on the deck outside and left it for tomorrow.
Even with the lousy weather the weekend mission was accomplished. Southern Star is at home where she belongs. We could have waited for next weekend but the weather could have been worse. What, it's possible!